Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Gas Prices Drop, and So, Alas, Does Our Perception of the Need for Fuel Economy and Public Transport

Le Devoir’s lead story this morning tells how no electric car has been licensed to run on Quebec’s roads so far despite promises last spring that they would be tooling around the province by July 17. Unfortunately the foot-dragging is symptomatic of problems that have beset the slow process of weaning us from our petroleum addiction, problems which may seem less acute as petroleum prices plunge

Petroleum and electric companies have an extremely spotted record when it comes to developing alternate kinds of vehicles. The Quebec film comedy "Congorama" plays with the problem, even, suggesting that a state-owned company strangely like Hydro-Quebec killed a project for a hybrid car for strategic reasons.

Yesterday the price at the gas pump in Montreal hovered around 80 cents a litre, down signficiantly from the high of $1.51 during the summer. The price drop, unfortunately, may lead us all to draw a huge collective sigh of relief and go back to our wasteful ways. The temptation will be to forget about switching to public transportation, and to soft-pedal the need for gas economy and alternate energies in the vehicles we drive. That is exactly what happened after the gas crunch of the 1970s. Manufacturers were required to make engines more efficient, but once the crisis was over that efficiency went to make more powerful cars.

More crucially, we must not let this temporary reprieve lead to a carte blanche for North American auto manufacturers as they face bankruptcy. Any aid package must contain incentives for vehicles less wasteful of petroleum. It must not be business as usual for the Big Three, just as it certainly is not business as usual for the rest of the world these days.